an open journal ready for writing

One Idea and 3 Steps to Regain Control of Your Life

The more time and energy we spend on one thing, the less time and energy we have to spend on everything else.

If we’re too focused on our careers, our health or family life will suffer. If we’re too focused on our fitness, our mental health and relationships will suffer. If we’re too focused on going out and having fun, our careers and relationships will suffer.

Singular focus is powerful, but it’s not a recipe for a fulfilling life. Singular focus requires more sacrifice than abundance, but abundance and balance are prerequisites for fulfillment.

When we focus too much on one thing, we lose sight of everything else. If we’re not aware of things that are going on in our lives, they’re out of our control. The more areas of life we lose sight of, the more control we relinquish.

When we zoom in, we lose control

This is easy to observe in other people but difficult for us to recognize in ourselves. When we look at someone who lets their work absorb their entire life, it doesn’t take much consideration to see how their choice strains their health or family life. Instead of going to the gym or heading to a kid's sports game, they’re in the office. It’s easy for us to see, but they’re so focused on their goals and obligations it’s difficult to recognize the consequences of the decision in real time.

We get caught up in certain areas of our lives because they’re immensely important, but we get so invested we become blind to everything else. The deeper we go, the easier it is to get stuck. Even though we have such a strong grasp on one thing, we feel helpless because everything else is out of control. It’s frustrating and destabilizing because we’re pouring everything we have to give into something, and yet the life we want is slipping through the cracks around us.

It’s easy to observe this in other people because we have a big-picture view of their lives. We’re not distracted by the details. We can see their life from a 30,000-foot view, but they’re experiencing it at ground level.

Zooming out reveals reality

From our view, we can see them driving down a road and barreling past gas stations, restaurants, and alternate routes that would make their journey easier and more enjoyable, but on the ground, all they’re worried about is getting to their destination. All of the resources and richness of the journey are just a blur as they speed down the road.

To avoid being the driver who’s out of control and blind to everything around us, we need to zoom out. When we zoom out, we gain control.

When we zoom out, we can see the big picture. We can see how a choice in one area of our lives affects another area. We can see the sacrifices and rewards for each decision. Instead of only focusing on the destination at the ground level, we can clearly see the downstream effects of every decision we make.

Everything that we lost sight of comes back into view and we have the opportunity to regain control. As Peter Drucker said, “what you measure is what you manage”. With a larger perspective on our lives, we can better balance our lives and create abundance in all the important areas of our lives instead of focusing on one area at the expense of all the others.

Transforming a theory into practice

I’m sure all of this sounds great, but a 30,000 view is rather abstract. How does this apply in reality? I’m glad you asked. Zooming out on our lives sounds simple in practice, but like most things, it’s easier said than done.

To zoom out and take control of our lives, we need to:

  1. Define the essential areas of our lives
  2. Understand how each area impacts the others
  3. Design every day to serve the big picture

1. Defining the Essential Buckets

The first step to zooming out and taking control is to take stock of all the essential areas or buckets of our lives. The fundamental flaw of being too zoomed in is only focusing on one bucket. Before we can provide each of these buckets the attention and effort they deserve, we need to define what they are.

There are countless areas of life and no two people will have the same list of buckets, but we want to hone on the essential buckets because although the same way focusing on one thing is detrimental, focusing on too many things is harmful as well. A manageable number of essential buckets is usually in the realm of 4-6 areas of life.

These buckets are the things we can’t live without. The things that we prioritize over everything else, whether by necessity or by choice. Examples might be Family, Health, Spirituality, Career, Relationships, Fun, Social, Finances, Hobbies, etc.

To help define these, we can think of where we invest our time right now and imagine how we’d like to spend our time in an ideal version of our lives. Whatever emerges as important and irreplaceable is a great place to start. We should also be careful not to omit things that are important or foundational but not always the most enjoyable things. For most of us, Career and Finance will be important because they enhance the other buckets, even though they might not be where we want to spend a lot of time.

Just having the buckets defined is a helpful lens to make decisions and evaluate our life, but to take things one step further, we should compare the buckets to one another and examine how decisions in one area of life impact all of the others.

2. Understanding Competing Priorities

It’s easy to view each bucket as independent from the others, but there are complex relationships between all the buckets. Each affects the others in different ways, and the culmination of our approaches defines what our life looks like.

Without a close look at how our decisions affect each other, it’s not immediately obvious how everything is interconnected, but a short look at the bigger picture reveals how everything is linked.

A choice to train for a marathon might seem like a net positive for the health bucket, but finding the time for training can inadvertently put stress on family life, work life, social life, and hobbies. The time pressure from training can cause enough stress that all the benefits of becoming more fit are negated. Conversely, training for a marathon might provide more energy and vitality that has a net positive effect on work and family that makes it worth the early mornings and hard workouts.

Understanding how each area of our lives is connected to others makes a huge difference in how we spend our time and allocate our energy. If we’re too zoomed into one bucket that doesn’t serve the others, it’s easy for things to feel out of control. Once we understand the consequences of each commitment, we better understand the big picture and regain control.

3. Designing Everyday Life

Once we take the time to learn what’s important to us and how investing time and energy into different areas of our lives affects everything else, we can take back control of our lives by designing a daily architecture that serves our goals without overwhelming us.

If we discover that exercise or meditation is important for clearing the mind and feeling grounded, we make time to do these things every morning because we know they’re important. If we oversleep and miss it, we feel hectic and scattered, so we know we need to go to bed early enough that waking up in the morning isn’t a problem.

And if we need to be in bed at a certain time, and we know that eating right before bed makes it harder to get good sleep, then we know we need to eat a few hours before we go to sleep. And if we need to eat dinner at a set time every night, we can plan our work, hobbies, and time with family around that as well.

Even optimizing for one bucket of our lives can completely transform how we approach our days and how we feel about them. As we take a look at each area of life and make sure we’re allocating an appropriate amount of time and energy, the optimum daily architecture becomes obvious. Days plan themselves and we can move through each day with the confidence that everything important to us is being taken care of.

Focus Defines Control

If our focus is small, our control will be small. If our focus is wide, our control will be wide.

When we’re only focused on one thing, everything else moves to the periphery where we can’t see clearly, much less feel in control of what’s happening. But when we zoom out, everything comes into focus and we can see how each bucket in our lives pours into all the others.

From a new perspective, everything comes into focus and the relationship between the important areas of our lives defines how we approach every day. To regain control of our lives, we need to zoom out, and only then will we see how the puzzle pieces fit together.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this post, you'll like my newsletter,

Every Sunday, I deliver insights and prompts surrounding personal development to help readers become a bit better each day.

Check it out and subscribe below!

Most Popular From the Prompted Newsletter